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Micro Sessions – Gaming in that ten minutes you weren’t using anyway

What do you do when you have a chunk of time with nothing planned out?  Standing in a line, between the ordering and the eating at a restaurant, waiting for a meeting to start? Don’t waste that time. Instead, have the tools on hand to game. Most commonly, that means carrying around your Tiny Notebook [1] and working on your next session, fleshing out NPCs, or roughing out an encounter or map.

But what about when you’re sharing that time with your fellow gamers? If you’re standing in line or waiting to dine, those minutes can be snatched up and used for a bit of impromptu gaming. Don’t break out dice. That’s awkward. Don’t do anything flashy that might draw attention to yourself, that’s a good way to cause trouble, but a brief role-playing exchange can use that time to good advantage. Especially if your entire group isn’t present, it can be a good time to add some world flavor, drop an adventure hook that they can then take to the group, or share some secrets.

With technology’s ever-increasing reach, you don’t even have to have your players with you. It’s rare that you can’t reach your players via e-mail or text message even on the go. Sending a message to your players can keep them thinking about the game while letting them respond at their leisure. In addition to the above options, electronic communication means you can share with as many or as few of your players as you like.  Don’t forget to make the inherent abilities of your communication device work for you.  Snap a picture of a crowded street or subway with a distinctive person in frame and send it to your modern players with a note: “Who is the man with the red flower? Where is he going?”  Do the same with the map you doodled on your napkin, wet ring making the ink run – “Saw this at the sword and flagon last night.  Wonder what that’s a map to?”

Too often we’re set in the concept that Role Playing Games require hours of prep and day-long sessions on the weekend.  Make use of spontaneous micro-sessions to make your game fun and keep your players on their toes.

13 Comments (Open | Close)

13 Comments To "Micro Sessions – Gaming in that ten minutes you weren’t using anyway"

#1 Comment By Tim Jensen On February 10, 2009 @ 7:21 am

Article request: I would like to see an in-depth implementation of href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternate_reality_game” target=”_blank”>alternate reality game techniques in tabletop roleplaying games.

#2 Comment By Tim Jensen On February 10, 2009 @ 7:22 am

Article request: I would like to see an in-depth implementation of href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternate_reality_game” target=”_blank”>alternate reality game techniques in tabletop roleplaying games.

#3 Comment By Virgil Vansant On February 10, 2009 @ 8:48 am

Instant Messenger has become a great tool of mine for micro-sessions. I’ve used it multiple times for simple role-playing interactions outside of our normal gaming time. Some of my players have even taken it upon themselves to role-play with one another, and then they’ll send me a log.

#4 Comment By Patrick Benson On February 10, 2009 @ 9:30 am

I really wish that I could get my players to be more tech savvy for this kind of stuff. Great ideas!

#5 Comment By The Stray7 On February 10, 2009 @ 9:58 am

Not every player is into that sort of thing, though. GMs have to immerse themselves in game as part of their job, but for many players it’s just a regular chance to hang out with buddies. This is an “interest” sort of issue, because if the only person that wants to game is you, you’re going to look silly and/or creepy.

#6 Comment By Scott Martin On February 10, 2009 @ 10:31 am

Sounds like a fun idea! As Patrick and Stray point out, your players need to be interested in it too– but enthusiasm often carries the day.

I know that when our Shadowrun GM seeded a wiki with random headlines (often hinting at future mission), only two of the players including me kept up with them.

#7 Comment By BryanB On February 10, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

In a manner of speaking, our group has micro sessions via e-mail between sessions. It is mostly for planning a group approach to whatever course of action the PCs want to follow for the following session.

I like this because it cuts down on planning stages at the table, which is my least favorite aspect of roleplaying games. I’d rather “play” than “plan.” But e-mail is a painless way of planning ahead for what is expected to take place.

#8 Comment By Swordgleam On February 10, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

I’m with Stray7. I’d love this, but most of my players would just get annoyed.

#9 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On February 10, 2009 @ 3:31 pm

@Tim – I did a quick read-up on ARGs, and I’m not even sure I quite grasp the concept. I’ll float it by the gnomes and see if anyone cares to enlighten me or write an article about them.

@Virgil and Bryan – excellent examples!

@Patrick – Unless your players are so untech-savy that they don’t even have e-mail accounts, you can still send them quick e-mails whenever you have access to an e-mail system. Even assuming your group is the tech equivalent of my grandmother, you can still use the technique, you just either have to get creative or wait for the right opportunity or both

@Almost everyone else – 100% right on the player buy-in note. I would imagine that after the first few tries you’d get a feel for which of your players are receptive and which would rather you left game time to game day. For the few of you that note that NONE of your players would be interested, this MAY (or certainly may not) be one of those cases where your group isn’t really all that interested in gaming and ought to give another activity a try (but this is by no means the only reason you’d get that result just something to mull over)

#10 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On February 10, 2009 @ 3:38 pm


@Scott – also a good example. I missed you in the first pass.

#11 Comment By wampuscat43 On February 10, 2009 @ 3:55 pm

@Matt, regarding ARGs:

From the Wikipedia:

“There are possible future Serious ARGs described in fiction. In his novel Halting State, Charles Stross foresightedly describes a number of possible ARGs, where players engage in seemingly fictional covert spy operations.”

Just finished this book, and it’s outstanding – highly recommended, and it does a good job of explaining ARGs. Basically, you’re playing the game during your day-to-day life. Sounded fascinating.

#12 Comment By Patrick Benson On February 10, 2009 @ 5:15 pm

[2] – I see your point. That is definitely an option, but it just results in responses like “Yeah, I saw your email. I was going to respond, but I knew we were gaming this weekend. What did it say?” Very frustrating for a tech geek such as myself. They just hate communicating via any method other than face to face. They’ll drop everything to go talk about the game in a coffee shop, but will not take 2 mintues to respond to an email. It just isn’t their style.

I should be clear that that is just one of my groups. The other group loves this kind of stuff. I’m not GMing that group yet as there is one more session under the current GM and then I take over for 3 levels (it is a D&D 4e game). Then I’m sure I can get some results with this technique.

#13 Comment By Bercilac On February 20, 2009 @ 2:24 am

I did occasional “micro-sessions” when I ran a campaign called “The Green Isles.” The setting was an archipellago, and the players became essentially pirates. The group was large, some sessions had as many as nine players. I was always dissatisfied in the way combat got handled at sea (if anyone’s ever read the Stormwrack supplement… ugh) as it tended to devolve into the ships drawing closer at 10′ a round, all in all an extended archery contest. But I digress.

Occasionally I would be sitting around with just two or three players and, if they were in port, those characters would have an opportunity to wander around. This introduced the occasionally game-altering effect.

“As agreed, you rendevous on the ship at noon on your third day. Most of you have blown a substantial portion of your booty on rum and other pastimes, and have only a vague memory of what took place [ha ha]. However, someone is missing…”

Of course, what happened is that some player went and made a mess of things while no one else was around.

I’m somewhat ambivelant about micro-sessions as suggested here. I would like to try them out, but I worry that if introduced abruptly they could blur the distinction between game-time and real-time. A lot of people here are saying that players might not be INTERESTED in this kind of micro-session. I would worry that it would be downright difficult. In your day-to-day life, you’re not set in the thinking modes of Krogar the Half-Orc Barbarian (that would be highly inappropriate). The you that exists in your everyday life has no idea how to deal with a scheming goblin mercenary. Unless your players are good multitaskers, the transition to Krogar’s mind could be a bit jarring while they’re buying groceries.